tv Tavis Smiley PBS May 1, 2017 6:00am-6:31am PDT
good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley 20 years ago, the beating of rodney king lit a powder keg under a city that was already ready to erupt. a rebuilding and a renewal have yielded mixed results in the city. i'm happy to be joined with leaders from those days karen bass, former county da. former la councilman michael wu, and john mack. we are glad you joined us. the l.a. rebellion, 25 years later, coming up right now.
went up in flames because of the injustice of rodney king. joining us is karen bass. gil gar setty who was elected the new da and oversaw one of the most pivotal errors in the department's history. michael wu made a racially charged race for mayor. he is now teaming with courses like "redesigning l.a." he is dean of the college of environmental design, and john mack. good to have you all here. >> thank you. >> does it seem like 25 years? >> no, it is incredible. the years have jumped by. we were talking about it earlier. it seemed like maybe 10 or 15 years ago, but 25, that is, but
of course, it still burns in my mind, the memory and the process that we went through. of course on the day of that verdict, a bunch of us were gathered at the church, and after that tape it was hard for us to believe that the jury would make the decision they did, but it happened and we know the result. >> a lot of people will look at this university tomorrow and look at that singular moment in history, and yet there was so much happening in this city prior to that that one has to go back beyond that week, day, or year, even five years, to get a sense of the powder ekg that los angeles was. >> i think that is absolutely right. it is important not to view it from just the simplistic fashion
of the verdict. if you look at who participated in the looting, you saw it was really, to me, what i call the rainb rainbow. it was all over the city, not just in south l.a. every time of area was involved, and it showed distress. >> you were running for office in that time. >> i remember when the riots started, and i'm driving back from a campaign event, and we're hearing what is going on at florence and form i dnormandy, said the police will be responding quickly. and there was no police response, and they said where is
the lapd. they can't ignore this. this can get out of hand very quickly. that was the tension that i personally felt that lapd was not doing the job we expected them to do. >> what do you recall about that unrest? that existed between the asian community and the african-american community? >> there was a lot of attention going on between korean americans and african-americans specifically. i remember going to meetings and to the communities where the rage that african-americans felt about being dispossessed. not having things like owning stores in the community, and the immigrants felt targeted. but the rodney king incident, and the condoning of police misconduct is what happened, for me, as a member of the city
council made me realize that people have to speak up and make a difference. >> john macky, you were here in 1965? >> no, i was not. >> i asked that because he was here, a kid, very young, but if you were here as well. i didn't know when you came because i wanted to get a sense of what we see in retrospect about what happened when it happened in 65 and when it burned 25 years ago. >> i'll give you my take. in the first incident, there was an immediate police response. a brutal police response. now fastforward to the ryons that took place after rodney king, and there wasn't any lapd response. that was of the main thing that
bothered me. and the tensions in the community were always there. i grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood. i went to school at 68th and g figaroa. i knew the people there, the tension that existed not just between the black and asian community, but between the lapd and the black community. >> speaking of tension. i worked for tom bradley, and the tension could not have been more ieheightened. >> absolutely. >> and his legacy, it was really awful. you think about it today, and we see these things rather routinely, but i thought the
lack of response at daryle gates punishing the community. he was at a fundraiser and and i was there when it happened not even knowing. i drove into the area when they were throwing bricks, and there was news helicopters. and not to respond to that incident in contrast to the 1965. and it was not -- i moved here in 1969, but as i reflect on what happened in 1965 as opposed to what happened, you know, in the response to the jury verdict, what triggers these
incidents is always a confrontation between the police and the community based on years -- and i agree with karen, we have to be careful not to be overly simplistic, but it was like a volcano that was building and building. apart from the obvious lapd acting like a force, and the videotape highlights that in my opinion, but you had other issues like jobs, education, no super markets, all of these things that just sort of came, but the smart, it seems to always be that tension between -- >> how did it get so bad, and i ask that because l.a. had a black mayor for 20 years. there were communities of color
on the l.a. city council, so how did they get the control? why were they treating people of color like that? >> i think one reason is darrell gates had civil service protection. he was untouchable. he operated like a jay edgar hoover. he could thumb his nose at all of the da. that seeped like some of the issues there but frankly, gates could just basically thumb his nose. >> he could thumb his nose, but how could he thumb his nose at the city council? >> tavis, i have very vivid
memories. i remember going to temergency operations center and realizing that the technology was really out of date. and they were using post it notes because there was no technology to know what was going on. and it was not just the technology, but the political structure was out of touch with the reality of what was going on out there in the city. so even though the diversity of l.a. was growing. even though there was some minority voices better represented on the city council, that didn't change the basic power relationship. the fact that the police department was a separate political force. the police was not under the control of the mayor, and politics as usual in l.a. back in the 1990s could go on and ignore the tensions burning below the surface. >> what do we think about the
way the white community saw this for what this verdict was or would have been. >> i think you raise a good question. i don't see it as much as lapd versus, what, anyone? i see it as a justice issue. we talked about this once before. th that is the question is it black justice or white justice? here i think the outrage is not directed right at lapd, it was directed at the justice system that this system permitted these culpable authors to be acquitted. there was outrage that comes from generations, not just who is alive right now. but the outrage that the justice system will treat a black person differently than they would a white person.
if you reversed this. had there been four black officers and a white victim? any doubt? >> why does it have to be either or? why can't black folk be in the police department and the broader system of juris prudence? >> i don't think it is either or. they had a big problem with darrell gates. he said that black folks had different veins in their neck and when you put them in a choke hold they die quicker because they were not normal. i don't believe the city council had the power until we changed the city charter. i remember him, and i don't know if this was in your time, mike, letting some people on the city council know -- i think there44d the violence, and what made it
last over those few days. because it was not all about black folks. there were latinos, white folks, everyone participated, and if you look back at the tape and see what they were looting. it was diapers, groceries, and it was awful, but i think it is wrong to look just at what the catalyst was and think that is the same thing. >> i will admit the city county till had oversight even if they thumbed his nose at them, someone ought to have control over the police chief, and you're right, i concur that we did change the carter after that, what do we make 25 years later of the fact that tom radley called him for the city not being prepared. we can argue that they d
deliberately did not punish areas of the city, but what about the fact that the city wasn't ready? for what would happen if these cops were found not guilty. >> one of the machine -- many, you know how much i love tom bradley just as you did, but the fact that you have a mayor of the city, and a police chief that is not even talking. i mean that was really irresponsible leadership, i would have to say, with all due respect. i think that is, so a large extent, contributing towards the failure that they have talked about, of lapd, the chief responding. if there was a level of
constructive communication, i would like to think there would have been a different response. he was arrogant. he was racist, no question about that. but because of a combination of the dysfunctional relationship on one hand, and at that time the construction of the charter, you know those two things in my opinion lead toward that regrettable welcome you know, situation in which lapd did not respond the way they should have. >> i wonder whether or not we see 24 years later, what happened in last as a precursor was it a prescursor or somethin different? >> i think it was, but mainly from the point of view lavrov technology. and you know, and i hate to say
this but when that videotape sir fated, it was like finally, they can't say it doesn't happen. and now, i think it is the same situation that these incidents happen all of the time around the country and they are not proven. a lot of times you might have an officer-involved shooting, the same story is told, the officer was threatened and they tried to go after my gun and there was nothing you could ever say. and now with the sell phone camera, the documentation becomes different, but the outcome doesn't seem to be different. >>. >> you absolutely right, because i would have people come and complain about the mistreatment they were receiving with.
and darrell gates would get on his soap boek and say they just want to get on television. unfortunately the majority population was not buying into that, but the vip. >> we did end up with a black police chief. after we got past the era, but in that racially tinged race, you could not quite make it happen. so what extense do you think it is necessary that your campaign by the feelings that were still lingering in this city. >>. >> i think there was a lot of racial attention in the air.
that affected the city wide elections. i could not really see it coming, but i think there is a lot of lessons that came out of that period in the early 90s and the relationship at political leadership and i think they're strong and they have a lot of insights. i don't think we're on the verge of any kind of riot, but i think it doesn't take that much, and i think the violence could happen in l.a. again if there was the same combination of ingredients in the early 90s. >> we had bill bradley come here who i think changed the culture of lapd. hired more minorities, put women in higher command positions, started working with the community and said all right,
we're here to help, let's talk. that was the first time that had been done. instead of the arms folded "we're the boss, no one can touch me." that changed dramatically. it's not perfect. no, but there is still so much work to be done if is a poverty issue. >> i could fill the studio if i wanted to of residents of the city that still feel 25 years later that on a number of fronts, not the at least of which is civilian control, that still feel we have not made the progress that we ought to have 23 years later. >> i think that is correct. i think things have changed, but i think there is a lot further
to go, and i agree with you completely in terms of the culture change. i think there are things that need to be resolved -- mike wu got the majority of the african-american vote. i think that is really important. when we look back in 25 years to cast it as african-americans against asians, and two minutes later you get the majority of the black vote, that saying something. >> he was sort of the heir apparent. he was on the ballot. is that something that -- did you see that? >> when i was a teenager in th ' '60s when l.a. and other cities were having riots, what inspired
me was people like tom bradley who represented more than one group. >> and john mack, tom bradley as you all know, was mayor for 20 years, ran six times, won five times, five consecutive times, never happened before, will never happen again, but what is amazing for me is that every time he ran, the number of black people in the city proper was going down. what do we make of the fact that 25 years later, largely on economics and not necessarily crime that it is not necessarily where it is. >> in a way it is, but i think black folks now are more disbursed. we're living all over the city, not just one area, and it is
because a lot of people who left an moved to the inland empire or north did so because of the cost of housing. a lot of people said it will be hard for black folks to get elected, but i think we all know now that black folks don't only have to represent community that's are majority african-american. >> what did we learn? >> i think we learned that injustice anywhere is bad. we didn't get a chance to say a lot about it, but i would have to say that institutionally the lapd has changed. >> but that does not negate the fact that individual acts of racism and brutality still occur. >> burning down a city is ease why i, rebuilding a city is hard. >> what did we learn?
>> whatever law enforcement agency is involved has to be working in the community and when there is something like this they must respond. >> woe learned the community needed to have a lot of community based organizations. i think a lot of positive has occurr occurred. >> can it happen again? >> yes, i do believe it could happen again, and i most certainly hope it doesn't, but i do believe it can, and especially with the current administration in washington, with an attorney general like sessions who says he will pull back on consent decrees with a message of hard core law and order, i think we're poised to see it happen again. >> conversations across the nation about the relationship between citizens and cops. that is our show for tonight,
good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. were you spanked as a child? if it you said yes, you may not be surprised that 70% of americans think spanking is acceptable. stacy patton is joining us and challenges the corporal punishment. then felicity huffman will join us to talk about her role in "american crime." i'm glad you joined us, stacey patton and felicity huffman in just a moment. ♪